At a recent gathering of United Methodists, organizers sold purple T-shirts quoting the Methodist founder John Wesley’s instruction: “Do Not Rashly Tear Asunder.
”In Methodist circles these days, citing the founder’s admonition can be understood only as a plea for an amicable solution to the denomination’s coming showdown over homosexuality.
A special session of the General Conference, to be held in February in St. Louis, will decide whether, how and which churches within United Methodism will allow openly gay clergy and same-sex marriage rites, and whether homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” No matter which of three ways forward is adopted at the meeting, it’s expected that some congregations will choose to sunder their ties to the worldwide body of United Methodism.
But if schism is at hand, nobody can accuse United Methodists of rashness.
Since the denomination’s 2016 General Conference, church leaders have hashed out the question in forums and blogs. Entire books have been published presenting the case for unity, for separation, or both sides of the question. Advocacy groups are already gathering to strategize for the special conference and to lobby delegates and educate people in the pews.
Some of these groups say unity is still possible — and advisable, given the denomination’s mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” That transcends issues of sexuality, they say.“
Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 is one we hold as a very high value,” said the Rev. Tom Berlin, lead pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Va., who served on the Commission on a Way Forward, a panel that narrowed the decision facing the special conference to three plans.